#9 Pacer’s 2022 CDT Thru-Hike: Steamboat Springs, CO to Rawlins, WY

This is update #9.
Chris “Pacer” Ford is attempting to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) when he began on April 30, 2022. He will keep us updated every week or two with the progress of his adventure with stories and photos from the trail. Follow along with us… get automatic updates by subscribing to this blog.

July 7, 2022

1,720 of 3,100 miles…55% complete

Naked Hiker Day Survey Results:

56% thought I did NOT hike naked; 44% thought I DID hike naked.  Answer:  I did NOT hike naked…I have way too many hang-ups!  

Trail Names:  

Icarus, Mummy, Beats, The Brain, Stewart, Gables, Martin.


The weather forecast was clear as I left Steamboat Springs for the next several days (not actually how it went down though).  It was an isolated 165 mile leg to get to Rawlins.  The rest of Colorado had towns much closer together.  I planned 6 days, but could dump out around mile 82 and hitch (tough hitch) into the tiny town of Encampment if needed.  

What’s next?  I transition from the northern side of the Great Basin and into the Wind River range.  This stretch is 170-180 miles depending on the alternate routes I take…not sure yet.  In Lander, I received Grizzly gear and mailed Cookie Jar back my snow gear. Grizzly gear includes a special food bag called an Ursack, two odor proof barrier bags that go into the Ursack, and bear spray.  I plan to carry it all until the end.  Let’s get started!

Leaving Steamboat Springs:

After a good, restful extended ZERO, I headed to the edge of town and started trying to catch a 25 mile hitch back up to the CDT.  The clouds were already building and the forecast looked grim for the day.  Mercifully, no one stopped and it started to rain.  Enough rain that I took a step back and took shelter at McDonalds to rethink my plan.  I decided to duck into a hotel one more night…the daily forecast looked miserable up top.  As I thought through my plan, in walked Icarus.  I last saw him in Winter Park where he told me about how he rode out a thunderstorm near the top of Gray’s Peak (14,300 feet…CDT highest point) the night before…truly terrifying story.  Anyway, we compared notes…I decided to duck weather; he decided to push forward.  Throughout the day, showers rolled through town, then that evening, a deluge hit the area….thunder boomed hard and heavy.  I looked out my window and thought about Icarus and Martin who I knew were in the middle of the storm.  I ran back into both of them in Rawlins, and their reports were as bad I expected.  Neither slept a wink; streams flowed under their tents; their quilts were wetted through…miserable!  

The skies were clear the next morning, so I started walking out of Steamboat Springs with my thumb out, and within a mile or so, a Subaru Crosstrek pulled over to pick me up…exact same model and color as mine.  There was already a thru hiker named Beats in the SUV.  Within another mile, we stopped to pick up Mummy.  I needed to be dropped a little further up Trail than Mummy and Beats, so they would start the day 1-2 miles in front of me.  Within a mile, I saw a hiker waiting for me.  It was The Brain.  The last time I saw him was on day two at the beginning of the hike.  We hiked a short while together catching up, and then he took his morning break.  That was the last I’d see if him during this section.  

The flower of the moment was the Trout Lilly…they were bursting out of the ground everywhere.  As I climbed a bit more, the terrain transitioned into marsh, bog, and mud…drainage from the snow melt for sure.  These saturated sections constantly drummed with the deafening sounds of crickets and frogs.  Then, I was back in ribbons of snowpack…up and down as I moved over humps of snow.  Some very short and other stretches were a few hundred yards.  In between the snowpack stretches was usually saturated wet ground.  My shoes and feet completely soaked…a condition I’m very used to in my Smoky Mountains.  As the day wore on up and down on snow, it got softer.  Usually, the snow was just soft on top giving me grip…sometimes, I’d unexpected posthole, sinking deep in the snow.  On one occasion, my left leg plunged deep to the hip…I was a bit stuck.  I had stepped next to an invisible boulder below the snow, and my leg scrapped it as it sunk.  I tried to use my left arm to push out, but it also sunk into the snow.  I took my pack off and put it next to me so I could push against it as the pack distributed the pressure on the soft snow.  I got my leg free with just a few scrapes and bruises.  The forecast was supposed to be clear, but the skies disagreed above me as the clouds grew dark.   I decided to cut the day a little short and not get caught near a peak.  I found a tree line that would be a good wind break overnight and set camp.  I quickly ate and prepped for a storm.  I was correct…it rained all night, but no thunder or lightening.

Gobbled up dinner as I watched these dark clouds head directly at me.  

Skies were clear to the west the next morning, but cloudy elsewhere.  I moved back over to the Trail and the snow pack was frozen solid and had a shine.  It would be very slippery as I climbed, so I put on my micro spikes.  The spikes bit well into the ice giving me confidence as I moved up and over the ribbons of snow.  I usually left them on in between stretches of snow.  I only needed them about 30 minutes…up until I started climbing rocks towards the 11,800 feet peak/shelf.  From far away, I thought I saw a handful of Elk, but as I got closer, they were Bighorn Sheep.  They were focused on grazing, so I was able to get within 50 yards before they spotted me.  They didn’t immediately bolt, but once they decided to leave, they did so quickly.  The tiny lamb was so quick and able to keep pace with the adults…it was very cute.  The rest of the day I navigated high elevations and marshy stretches.  It looked like I was clearing the last of the snow.  Up until recently, this was known to be a 40 mile stretch of snow…the hot summer temps had now reduced it to the remaining ribbons of snowpack.  I had cleared the worst of it.

The next morning, I was bouncing up and down over PUDS (pointless up & downs) as we call them.  I was still around 10,000 feet but the snow was gone for the most part as I cleared two 10,500 feet tops.  Again, the clouds…they started to look angry.  A huge clap of thunder directly over head made me instinctively duck…it had my attention!  I stopped and sat on a downed tree to see what would happen.   It passed and I climbed…I felt exhausted and gutted as I slowly climbed.  The Trail, at times disappears.  Through these sections, the Trail maintainers use posts and cairns to guide the way.  I grew frustrated trying to find way ahead.  I felt that I was off somehow…physically fatigued, mentally frustrated.  Aaahhhh!  Time for a break and a bottle of electrolyte.  I popped a Nuun tablet in a bottle to dissolve…quickly guzzled it.  Boom…I felt right with the world.  The next climb, I felt myself again.  So much so, I found it fun and comical to navigate the puzzle of about six massive meadows of marsh.  I played a game where I tried to keep my feet dry as I worked across 1/4-1/2 mile sopping wet meadows…I won a couple more than I lost.  I should have just blasted through them to save time, but I actually had fun playing the game.  But most importantly, my feet never touched snow on day 3…it was a good day!

The faint Trail is visible some of the time across these beautiful, but saturated meadows.  When not visible, we follow posts (on the right). This is an example of where I left the Trail to dodge wetness.

Day 4 and beyond were the same…my feet never touched snow again during this leg.  Hard hiking, 13-14 hours a day, landed me within 1 mile of the highway that goes into Encampment.  I decided to keep moving forward and skip town.  Clouds were ugly and got more ugly as I broke camp.  It looked like a direct hit was heading my way.  I hoped for some sort of shelter as I got near the highway.  There it was…a privy with an overhang…jackpot!  For 30-45 minutes I didn’t dare leave the overhang.  I called Cookie Jar to catch up…the storm passed.  I was so lucky to have shelter.  I started a crazy steep climb to 11,000 feet and watched the clouds melt like snow…the clouds broke into puffy clumps against a deep blue backdrop…it was gonna be another good day.  Off the top, the descent was a thick shaded Lodgepole Pine forest.  I saw elk up high and deer down low.  I had finally made it into Wyoming!  At the edge of the forest, I ate lunch in the shade, knowing there would be very little shade ahead of me.  I was about to start hiking fully exposed sections of desert-like terrain.  Someone posted a comment about hugging a tree before leaving the trees.  So, I picked a huge Aspen to hug and thanked it for the shade; then, setoff into the sun and high winds.  Up and down climbs across the desert, then back into trees several times.  Each year, it looks like these exposed Lodgepole Pine sections are shrinking with massive blow downs.  The Forest Service and Trail maintainers come in and recut the path each season.  They haven’t cut it this year yet, but had signs posted…looked like they were planning to cut soon.  For now, we have to work our way up, over, through, under, around the dozens and dozens of blowdowns.  This is where I have a midpoint trail tale.

I was in one of the these blowdown sections where the pines are stacked on top of each other.  For me, I find it easiest and quickest to usually just walk on top of them, balancing myself as I climbs up, over, and down.  Sometimes I lose a bit of balance and just chase myself to the ground and jump.  This time though, things went wrong along the way as I chased myself to the ground.  I think a foot got hung…who knows.  Regardless of how, everything went sideways, quickly!  Doesn’t it always?  As my mind chased my feet, I remember nearing the ground sideways, not upright.  I was tumbling down these trees headed face first.  My fall was finally broken when my face smashed into a tree hidden under the weeds.  My right cheek bone felt like it had been hit by Mike Tyson’s nephew.  Had my hands not gotten a little in front of me, I’m sure it would have been a complete KO by Mike Tyson himself.  I laid there stunned and quickly brought both hands to my face for a feel.  I started searching both sides of my face with fingers to check for symmetry.  I was afraid I had broken my nose or crushed my cheek bone…everything was in the right place, but I had a little blood on my right hand from a few scrapes on my face.  Then, a sharp pain on my left ankle.  As I lay on the ground, I looked down my leg and my foot was covered in Carpenter Ants.  As I crashed, my foot tore into a rotted stump the ants had made into a big nest.  In that split second, I saw my foot covered and the open nest with ants already moving around eggs.  I bounced up, slammed my left foot to the ground to knock off ants, then I swatted the rest off…just one bite.   Deep breath; won’t do any good to get mad; back to the Trail.  About ten minutes later, I noticed pain down my right leg.  I looked down, and the outside of my leg below my knee was covered in blood to my ankle.  Crap!  My right leg had a big scrape from the crash.  I decided to let it dry for about an hour.  At a stream, I cleaned it up a bit.  In the end, my face, nose, and leg were scrapped; and my right wrist and shoulder were jammed.  All minor…and I’m starting to look like a typical thru hiker…a little patina.  😉

Back to the rest of Day 4.  I cleared the rest of the blow downs and found great looking Trail ahead.   I was in and out of trees and came across a herd of hundreds of sheep openly grazing on a mountain side.  Many, many were on the Trail…head down, focused on eating.  I would try to get their attention without scaring them, but they always jumped out of their wool!  I crossed a road and couldn’t believe how bad the Trail was…so much so, I stopped to check comments in my FarOut app.  Many comments about how overgrown and unmaintained the way ahead was and that there was a very stiff river crossing.  I pulled back off Trail and chose the parallel road on the other side of the river.  Good choice after comparing notes a few days later with other hikers…Beats ended up washing down river a short bit and lost a few pieces of gear…others found a different way across up stream.  The road walk put me crossing that river in just shin high water…I got lucky on that one.  Early evening, I climbed terribly steep and rutted out ATV trails and ended at sunset on the wide open prairie similar to the Great Basin’s desert.  Exhausting and tough day, but it ended well and productive.  The day’s lesson?  Embrace the Brutality that is the CDT…stuff happens!

Day 5 was idyllic!  Cool breezy morning as the sun rose…cool walk along a smooth Bureau of Land Management (BLM) road.  I could watch the landscape instead of my feet.  Antelope bounced and chuffed at me.  I saw a couple coyotes dart into the sagebrush.  Prairie dogs chased each other in front of me on the road.  Birds were chirpy and a couple hawks held their hunting spots on fence posts.  I stopped to look back; I had cleared myself from the cloudy Colorado mountains to the south.  By 8:00, I could feel the sun’s power already.  I had not seen a single other person this entire section so far.  My only company was my shadow…long and comical looking in the mornings.  A few times, I spoke to my shadow…”good morning; nice day, isn’t it?”  I was following hiker prints.  I recognized Mummy’s Altra Lone Peaks with their distinctive baby Bigfoot print.  His tracks were fresh and stepped occasionally on top of other hiker track prints I didn’t recognize…I was pretty sure I was close to Mummy.  Now in a desert environment, the water is less, well, desireable looking, except for an awesome spring where I topped off early AM.  My lunch target was Muddy Creek crossing #3 where I would take shade shelter under the bridge.  When I arrived, I saw another pack…it was Mummy.  We aired out our feet, watched a few crawdads on the far creek bank, enjoyed cool shade, watched dozens of swallows fly looping under/over the bridge (we were invading their space), ate lunch, and talked a bit.  

Living like a troll under a bridge for lunch.

Afternoon clouds blocked the direct sun as lunch ended.   Back to the dirt road walk, we kept each other’s company at a good pace.  So good in fact, we had amassed 35 miles before 6:00 where we stopped for the night at Little Sage Lake.  Fast terrain and tread let me gobble up miles that I couldn’t in Colorado’s steepness.  It was nice to stop early and let the body and mind rest.  Along the way, I saw a Mule Deer and her two fawns effortless bounce up a steep ridge.  Wish I could do that!

Just 17 miles away from Rawlins…town day!  I woke and packed up a little early.  I was hiking by 5:30 and the Trail continued to be quick.  Another benefit was that I was surrounded by cloud cover…didn’t look threatening, but did keep temps cooler.  Around 9:30, I popped out on Hwy 71 for the walk into town.  A small SUV pulled up from behind me, and the driver yelled, “Hey, do you want a Mountain Dew or Pepsi?”  I said, “I’d love a Mountain Dew!”  He replied, “Yah, me too!!!” and sped off!  I was stunned, but also thought it was hilarious.  He stopped in about 20 feet, laughing uncontrollably.  He gave me a soda, and it turns out that he’s also from Knoxville.  His trail name is Morning Glory, and he’s out here supporting a friend finishing his last CDT section and the Triple Crown; he’s also a coordinator for the American Long Distance Hiking Association-East (ALDHA-East).  We finished our conversation with him offering me a two hour ride to Lander the following day…huge trail magic!  I finished my short walk into town and ate a diner breakfast.  Then, City Market for resupply.  Then hotel for laundry and check-in.  Dinner…I created what I call “The Rawlins’ Triple Crown”:  1)  Taco Bell—1 Fiesta Veggie Burrito, 2 Soft Taco Supremes, 2 Cinnabon Bites; 2) Burger King—Whopper w/cheese, Small Fries, and 3) McDonalds—1 McDouble, 1 Oreo McFlurry…in all, 3,240 calories…it barely fit in my belly!  🤣

Around 10:00 the next day, Morning Glory picked me up.  We had a detour to run through Atlantic City to pick up three more hikers that needed a ride to Landers too.  Atlantic City is in the boonies down a one way dirt road.  Morning Glory has chased hikers up and down the AT since 2011…now, here he is doing the same on the CDT.  He said it feels weird that the hikers know more about where we are than him.  He really knows the AT towns and roads.  Morning Glory is a top-notch trail Angel…genuinely enjoys being a part of the hiking culture…such a generous and kind guy.  The SUV was chatter, chatter, chatter as we all talked.  I had not met these three hikers:  Peppermint (Switzerland), Row Man, and Stoke.  He dropped us off at the gear shop in Lander; then, Morning Glory was off to pick up more hikers in the afternoon.  On Saturday, he will hike with his buddy, Sparkles, the final few days of his CDT hike.

Trail Tale:

If you have foot issues, skip this one…for real.  But, if you’re intrigued, please continue.  Quick story that shows you how living a feral life on Trail will change you, your habits, and standards.  As you’d expect hiker feet take a beating.  I’ve learned to care for them throughout the hike instead of waiting until the end.  I used to think calluses should be left alone and let them build up for more protection.  The exact opposite is the case…calluses should be ground down and removed.  At home, I have a few different tools for the job, but they ain’t ultralight.  In Cuba, NM, I found a small piece of low grit, coarse sandpaper—I thought it was perfect for my backpack…and it is.  Over this last 160 miles, my feet were waterlogged and treated pretty bad…it was time for foot care.  I broke out my sandpaper and went to work sanding away.  With my calluses removed, all I needed was some hotel lotion to moisturize my feet.  I gobbed on a bunch and worked it in.  My hands were covered with too much lotion.  I thought to myself what else needed lotion.  Of course—my face!!!  Without even thinking about it…it happened.  I immediately started smearing hiker foot leftovers on my face.  In that moment, I was stunned at what I had done.  I had lost my mind and was living like the filthy animal I had become.  🧀🦶🤮.  Yah, that happened!

Until Next Time, 



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